Let’s give a welcoming “Howdy” to guest author Victoria Kabakian. Today, she is sharing a review of Big Thunder Ranch BBQ in Disneyland. Now, let’s get to the grub!
There’s only one place that can marry an unequivocal love for Disneyland with the perfect bucket of stick-to-your-ribs, you’ll-need-to-floss-afterwards barbecue, and that’s none other than Big Thunder Ranch BBQ.
During a recent visit to the park, we had to take an unplanned detour through Fantasyland to get here, due to the current refurbishment at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Even with the added obstacle, it was worth the frantic pace required to make it in time for our advance dining reservation.
Perhaps it’s because nearby Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was closed at the time, but our visit to Big Thunder Ranch BBQ was a quiet escape from the typical crowds at Disneyland.
The moment we saw the wooden archway welcoming us to Big Thunder Mountain Ranch, “Home of the Happiest Horses on Earth,” we felt like we had entered another world.
We had a somewhat late afternoon reservation at 1:30PM, and the space wasn’t overly crowded at that time. When we checked in for our ADR, we were asked if we minded sharing a table with others or if we preferred our own table. Since they had the space to accommodate us, we opted for our own table and were then handed a buzzer to alert us when the table was ready.
Wooden picnic tables covered with red-white-and-blue plastic tablecloths and shaded with canopies are lined up in concentric semi-circles around the focal point of an elevated stage featuring live entertainment.
With short sets and frequent breaks in between songs, a piano player, acoustic guitarist, and singer take the stage with down-home ranch-style entertainment. This is just a sliver of the fun that is to be had during a meal at Big Thunder Ranch BBQ.
Even a trip to the bathroom feels like an adventure in time and space (especially when you get lost following simple directions) with playful signs for “100% Splinter Free” bath tissue, and Cowboys and Cowgirls entrances for his and hers facilities.
Once we finished our *ahem* business and headed to our own private picnic table (no sharing required, thank you very much), the laid back country vibe of the space continued with a stack of bright Mickey Mouse-red dishes and a bucket of utensils, napkins, and wet-wipes for inevitably sticky fingers.
The menu at Big Thunder Ranch BBQ differs only slightly between lunch and dinner and features all-you-care-to-enjoy barbecue. Hearty portions of barbecue chicken and ribs, cole slaw, ranch beans, and corn bread round out the options at lunch, while dinner additionally includes smoked sausage and corn cob wheels. As I mentioned, we were here for lunch, so the latter two options weren’t part of our experience.
Before diving into endless buckets of meat, I’d like to point out that drinks are included in the set price of the meal, which currently wavers from $23.99 at lunch to $26.99 at dinner for adults, and a solid $11.99 at both meals for children.
Drinks range from soft drinks to iced tea and lemonade. I elected the unsweetened iced tea and found it perfectly refreshing on a hot day. All drinks are served aptly in mason jars, which follow through on the themeing of this rustic restaurant.
Onto the bucket of meat! A pile of bone-in, well-seasoned chicken is paired with fall-off-the-bone succulent ribs (extra barbecue sauce is available on the side) in endless buckets that can be refreshed as often as you’d like.
One of the perks in having a set menu for all diners to enjoy is that when you ask for more (be it seconds or thirds), it’s ready and brought to your table before you can say “the most magical place on Earth.” And it’s piping hot and delicious to boot!
The chicken isn’t really “barbecue” per se, as in it’s not naturally slathered in sauce, but rather seasoned and grilled. It’s incredibly moist and flavorful, regardless of the lack of sauce (in fact, I prefer it that way, but you can always add your own), and along with the typically “bbq” ribs, both options are completely satisfying, whether you’re a cowboy or not.
The perfect slew of side dishes begins with a bucket of ranch beans. These are essentially baked beans, but far superior to their canned counterparts, and slightly less sugary. As a lover of all legumes, I was very happy with this addition to my meal.
A slightly sweet, vinegar-based cole slaw may lack a traditional mayo dressing, but it’s a bright and crisp complement to a finger-licking kind of meal.
Last, but certainly not least, a basket of corn bread studded with corn kernels and served with large pearls of fresh butter is practically dessert in my eyes. There’s something so perfect about sweet cornbread paired with smoky barbecue that fills my arteries with gluttonous joy. We definitely went for seconds here. No regrets.
The only down-side with an all-you-can-eat family-style meal that is delicious from top to bottom is that finding room for dessert can be a true challenge. In our case, we were spent after multiple buckets of barbecue and all the fix-ins. No dessert for us on this visit, but perhaps next time!
Although perhaps pricier than other dining options at Disneyland, Big Thunder Ranch BBQ is actually a great bargain because you can fill up to your stomach’s content. This could mean you could save money on other meals throughout the day, and snack on smaller items instead (we only needed a corn dog and Dole Whip to round out the rest of our day, and our bellies were fully satisfied).
The meal is appropriate for all ages, and even includes a vegetarian option per request. Anyone with a healthy appetite who enjoys traditional barbecue cooking will get a kick out of this laid back, Disney-fied dining option tucked away behind Big Thunder Mountain.
Victoria is a Minnie Mouse-obsessed Disney enthusiast and food blogger at Mission: Food. She’s a classically trained cook with a soft-spot for cooking up Disney favorites in her kitchen when she isn’t park-hopping or sailing away on Disney Cruises.
Are you ready to book a meal at Big Thunder Ranch BBQ? Let us know in the comments below!